It is not often that a project results in a Win-Win-Win-Win. The Pathways Out of Poverty Project in Dayton, Ohio is resulting in a win for disadvantaged workers, a win for the environment, and a win for blighted neighborhoods in the City of Dayton. And now, it is also a win for remodelers, furniture makers and green construction companies as far away as California and Japan.
In late 2009, MVRPC was one of four regional planning organizations to join with the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) on a project funded through the U.S. Department of Labor to train and place disadvantaged workers in green jobs. The Board of MVRPC authorized staff to pursue this grant, even though MVRPC has not typically been involved in workforce development grants. The Board saw that this grant opportunity was a chance to bring much-needed resources into the Region at a time of serious economic challenges.
Through our local partner, East End Community Services, (East End) disadvantaged individuals are being recruited, screened and trained to earn jobs in deconstruction, green construction/remodeling and building performance. To participate in the program an individual must live in a high-poverty zip code and fit one or more of the following categories: be unemployed, have no or very low income, be an ex-offender or be without a high school diploma. Special effort is made to recruit veterans who fit the above criteria.
Most of the participants in the Dayton project are being trained to deconstruct vacant structures, save as much of the structure as possible and prepare the salvaged materials for resale and reuse. Trainees receive certificates in OSHA Worksite Safety, Asbestos Abatement and Lead Safety for Renovators to prepare them for this work. As of September 23, 2011, one hundred and seventy-three (173) disadvantaged individuals had completed approximately five (5) weeks of unpaid training, each earning multiple certificates. These certificates are nationally recognized and make the candidates attractive to employers in the deconstruction and construction industries.
The project team at East End then provides support services and assistance in finding employment in green construction and deconstruction trades. Despite the very difficult job market in the Dayton Region, ninety-one (91) participants have entered unsubsidized employment Of particular note is that seventy-eight percent (78%) of those placed in jobs have some type of criminal background. Ex-offenders typically have a very difficult time finding legitimate employment, even in a good economy. Of the 91 who entered employment, 71 are currently working.
One of the most unique elements of the project is that many participants are, or have been, employed addressing the serious problem of abandoned, deteriorating houses within the City of Dayton. These vacant houses attract crime and arson and drive down the values of nearby properties. Many participants have helped to deconstruct houses that are blighting the very neighborhoods in which they grew up and now live, improving the quality of life for themselves and their neighbors. And, instead of those houses being bulldozed and hauled to a landfill, they are carefully disassembled, and as much of the materials salvaged as possible for future reuse.
An important partner in the project is Dayton Works Plus (DWP), a social enterprise which currently employs about 25 program graduates. DWP has contracts with a variety of entities, including the City of Dayton, to deconstruct abandoned structures. DWP has acted as the first employer for many participants, giving them the opportunity to learn worksite skills and prove themselves as reliable employees. DWP has a close working relationship with Pathways project case managers and provides both the employee and case managers with weekly feedback on job-related performance. Since this is one of the first “real” jobs that many of the participants have held, this feedback is essential to them learning about employers’ expectations. DWP also offers pathways to more responsibility and better pay, with deserving crew members being promoted to Team Leader or Site Foreman. Individuals who have been the most reliable at DWP are also offered first opportunity to interview with other companies when better opportunities come along. Several former DWP employees are now working in the construction field at higher wages, some with medical and retirement benefits. It is important to note that several participants had been homeless prior to starting the Pathways program, and are now tax-paying citizens, able to help support their families.
So what happens to the salvaged materials?
Since most of the houses that are being deconstructed are 50 to 100 years old, the lumber was made from prime, old growth timber that isn’t available at modern lumber yards. Through a partnership with St. Vincent DePaul, harvested materials are sold locally at the Deconstruction Depot, which is located in the rear of the St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Store on Edwin C. Moses Boulevard in Dayton. Doors, windows, hardware, hardwood flooring and accessories are often bought by homeowners for remodeling projects. Lumber has been purchased to build garages and yard sheds. Unfortunately, due to the stagnant local building industry, all of the harvested materials cannot be absorbed by the local market.
So what to do with the “excess inventory?”
Very recently, DWP received its first order to sell materials out of the Region. The Resource Conservation Group, LLC, located in Los Angeles, CA, has ordered a shipping container of lumber (about 16,000 board feet) scheduled to ship on September 30, 2011. According to the buyer, Douglas "Fir" Stoutenburg, the CEO of the Resource Conservation Group>this load is destined for Japan. Future Loads of materials will primarily be put to use on the West Coast, some will be fashioned into high-end furniture, some used in new green construction, and some in remodeling projects. The local project partners hope that sometime soon a furniture manufacturing operation can be started in Dayton, providing more job opportunities for local residents and turning what was once seen as landfill fodder into a valuable commodity.
The Pathways program ends in January of 2012. Project partners are currently seeking funding to continue the recruitment, screening and training process. The DWP deconstruction project has enough work for at least the next two years, guaranteeing jobs and a supply of reclaimed materials for at least that time period. For more information about MVRPC’s role in the Pathways Project, please contact Bob Steinbach, Director of Regional Initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937.223.6323.
For more information about the project, please see the Pathways program overview at the national level.